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Wisconsin State Legislators Deserve Pay Raise

January 5, 2009

Over the past couple of weeks much debate has been generated over the pay raise that state legislators in Wisconsin will receive this year.  I am not sure if there is any real heated feelings about this matter across the state, or if the media just needed a story to dwell on over the holidays.  Regardless of why some feel a need to stir the pot, one thing is clear, and that is Wisconsin state legislators deserve their pay increase.

Being a member of the state legislature is not a regular job, as the duties extend far beyond time spent in the office, or what most would consider a normal workday.  To be sure, each legislator chose the path of being a public servant, and so should not be felt sorry for when having very full days.  There is a need to have truly committed elected officials serve the public, and pay should be in line with their duties and time worked.  A healthy salary should be looked at as a way to encourage talented people to serve.

The idea of public service being a noble calling is something that we have long forgotten.  The fact is, party affiliation aside, each member of the legislature had the desire to put themselves up to the rigors of a campaign, and public inspection in order to serve the greater good.  In the midst of all the jokes (and often time negative blog posts) we often forget that public service can be a grueling occupation.

I saw the demands of the job up close while working for State Representative Lary Swoboda.  There was never a time when he was out in public that someone did not stop to talk with him about an issue, pose a question, or have a constituent need that required a response. 

I have witnessed people walking alongside him during parades to ask something, catch his arm after church services, or talk with him while he filled his car’s gas tank.   Anytime we went out for dinner he never left a restaurant without constituent needs noted on napkins.  I watched as he used a piece of the butcher’s wrapping paper to make notes one day as a constituent grabbed him in the grocery store.  And believe it or not, I even witnessed someone ‘needing’ his time at the funeral home during his mother’s wake.  The calm that he showed in all these instances, multiplied day after day, is not unlike most representatives.

Granted some work harder than others, but the vast majority, on both sides of the aisle do a great deal of work.

To pretend that these jobs are easy, and should not be compensated at a reasonable rate is just absurd.  The pay increase is 5.3%, and amounts to $2,530.  Granted there are many in the state that will see no pay increase, and even suffer job layoffs due to the national recession.  But to use that as an argument against this pay increase is simply mixing apples and oranges.  The fact that these pay increases are not yearly only underscores the fact that this raise is not out of line.

A couple legislators trying to get a headline think the whole legislative body should vote for pay raises.  The very last thing the state legislature needs is another hunk of political red meat to be used as a side issue.  Are there not enough truly serious issues that demand time and energy, instead of creating more heat and rhetoric?  I am quite certain that the majority of state residents understand the need for the pay raise, and are comfortable with it.

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  1. Madtruk permalink
    February 24, 2009 9:22 PM

    Dear Representative Jorgensen:

    As someone who supported both of your runs for the assembly seat you now hold, I am deeply disappointed in your decision to keep your pay raise of 5.4% while the rest of the state, and indeed, the nation, are being asked to accept cuts, increased insurance premiums, and/or job losses.

    I have heard the arguments claiming it had already been voted in, etc, and these simply do not hold water. Shared sacrifice is shared sacrifice, and the legislature (-13 members, mostly Republicans) set an _extremely_ poor example by doing what they did.

    I am not a one issue voter and neither is my wife, but the fact is that this colors everything you say and do as a representative of our district. In Lake Mills, good friends are losing their jobs of 20+ years as companies close, and our representative takes a pay increase.

    I have yet to mention your per diem, which, I might add, many, many people who live outside of Madison and commute to work daily do not receive.

    In addition, though it certainly was for political gain, even Republican State Senator Scott Fitzgerald has agreed to return his raise.

    This is an easy issue. You are paid fairly for a difficult job requiring many hours and some travel. In return it is part-time with great benefits and you have a large degree of choice in what you do. Consider the case of teachers, who also work only part of the year and yet during that year work incessantly from home, after school hours, and/or coaching. Where is their 5.4% increase? Where is their per diem?

    Another proposal would be to get behind legislation to delay across the board all pay increases until the budget is balanced and the economic engine revives. This should be in addition to negotiating 0% increases in health care premiums over the same time period. Write in guarantees that all state employees will receive the compensation deserved with good times, instead of the constant fiscal disregard for public service.

    Please consider returning your pay raise to the state of Wisconsin. We need leadership that will set the tone for the coming years of shared sacrifice, not self-serving excuses. Your decision on this matter will be taken into account in just 21 short months.


  2. lilyjoblue permalink
    February 8, 2009 7:59 PM

    I agree with Delicious (Jan 5, 2009) “It isn’t that they don’t deserve a pay raise…it’s that we all do”. But deserving one and having the money for one are two different matters. If the state does not have the money to avoid laying off over 65 THOUSAND employees THIS YEAR, it does not have the money to give the legislature a raise. $2500 dollars a year will not make the difference between attracting qualified political leaders and ignorant power-mongerers, but it will make a $330,000.00 annual difference to our state budget.

  3. Jon Ronning permalink
    January 19, 2009 10:54 AM

    If nothing else, the refusal of the pay raise would exemplify an understanding of the severity of our current financial situation and the difficulties many Wisconsin families are already experiencing. Moreover, your argument that this pay raise would attract quality candidates is specious. Take a look at the incumbency rate in Wisconsin. Many quality candidates are frozen out by an election system rigged in favor of the incumbents. If it takes money to attract quality candidates, then $2500 is not going to do it.

  4. bob permalink
    January 13, 2009 12:48 PM

    State legilators do not need pay raise, we have sorring deficit, and lot people out work,lossing jobs and take pay cut to keep some jobs. You have lot nerve vote for pay raise. We all need make sacrifices. NO!!payraise, that what emporyers tell there people. Legislators work for us, NO! pay raise for you

  5. Lyle Bliss permalink
    January 11, 2009 12:22 PM

    The legislators have the intestinal fortitude to accept a pay raise, when even I as a retired state employee is going to take a 3% deduction in my pay. We have not had a raise for several years because of the back to back recessions.

  6. LaFay permalink
    January 6, 2009 10:14 AM

    Kidding Right? Wisconsin legislators have become career positions and long abandoned the serve the people when gasoline hit a buck a gallon. There is no deserving in public service. Period.
    When is the last time any state legislator actually demonstrated leadership? Consitently and consecutively.
    I think that describes all. Its a sad state of affairs, I expect the best and brightest to continue and make the state exist as fast as possible, continuing a highly
    obvious state of affairs where the best of the worst are a sad bunch collectively whose accomplishments embarrass the state each and every day.

  7. tomjerkweed permalink
    January 5, 2009 5:01 PM

    How about giving the potential increase back to WI state workers like Delicious?

  8. January 5, 2009 12:00 PM


    Well stated.

    Just for the record let me add that I have long thought state workers too often take the brunt of the worst thoughts from average state residents. Most state workers are the best at what they do, and provide a vital service. When there was a rush to streamline some of these workers in the first term of Gov. Doyle, my thought was how the services they provide would suffer, and the amount of institutional memory that would be lost. Hacking the state employees was a bad idea, and still rankles me.

    I think that state workers are undercompensated at times, and feel that your claim for a pay increase is more than fair. I also think more respect from the general public for state workers, and all that they do, is also in order.

  9. Delicious permalink
    January 5, 2009 11:44 AM

    While I agree with you in theory, I still cringe at the thought of them taking a 5.3% increase, especially in one year. I’ve been an administrative worker for the state for over 10 years, and the largest increase I’ve ever received is 2%, and that is on top of a very modest, lower than private sector salary. I, and most others in this kind of job do the work we do because we believe what we do is our way of contributing to a good society. More years than not, we’ve been asked to take a 0% increase for the public good. Most state workers that I’ve talked with across all agencies this year are taking 0%, or facing layoffs. I think it’s fair to ask the legislators to do the same, if so many others are being asked to sacrifice. It isn’t that they don’t deserve a pay increase…it’s that we all do, and if the state is really in that much trouble, we should be bearing the sacrifice evenly.

  10. January 5, 2009 10:38 AM

    To pretend that a group that acted so irresponsibly as to leave us with a $5 billion plus budget gap is absurd.

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